Determine what you need
First, think about what you need out of a gym. Will you take classes? Do you want a swimming pool and a sauna? Will you use free weights, or just do cardio and machines? Do you need showers on the premises? There are very basic gyms and there are clubs with lots of luxuries, and you don’t want to pay higher membership fees for things you won’t really use.
Before you start comparing gyms, you’ll also want to find out if your employer or your health insurer offers any discounts or incentives for fitness centers. Typically these discounts apply only at participating gyms so check in advance.
Do a trial run
Once you’ve narrowed down your needs, find out what gyms near your home or place of work meet your qualifications. Keep in mind that if the location isn’t convenient, you’re less likely to use it. Find a few local choices and try them out. Most clubs will offer a day pass for free to potential new members, but even if there’s a small charge, it’s worth it to find out if you like the atmosphere.
Trying out a few gyms also gives you a chance to shop around on prices. Be sure to find out all the potential costs. There may be extra fees for classes, child care, locker use, yearly maintenance, and just for signing up. Some clubs may try to pressure you saying the rate is only good for that day, and then you’ll need to decide if you want to patronize a business that uses those kind of tactics.
Sign up at the right time
Of course what time of year you’re looking may affect prices quite a bit. Gyms are most popular at the beginning of the year (think New Year’s resolutions), so they don’t need to offer their best deals then. But in the summer, when many people prefer to exercise outside, and toward the end of the year, when people have forgotten about showing off their body in a swimsuit, you can get the best rates and offers. I got a great deal on my month-to-month gym membership…I signed up right before Thanksgiving when most people are thinking of gobbling turkey, not working out. And if you’re inclined to negotiate, you’ll have a better chance at the end of the month when sales people are trying to make their numbers.
Contract or month-to-month?
You’ll also want to find out if the gym requires a contract or if they offer month-to-month memberships. They may offer both at different costs, and especially if you’re new to working out at a gym, a month-to-month membership can be invaluable. If they require a contract, it’s important to know how long it lasts and under what conditions you can cancel (for example, if you move out of the area, or if you develop a medical condition that prevents you from working out).
Seek out promotions
Finally, consider any additional promotions. You might find a deal in local advertising, or on a social discount site like Groupon. And the gym may offer discounts for additional family members, referrals, and the like.
Read the fine print
When you’ve made a decision on which gym is right for you, be sure to read the contract. Front and back. You need to know what’s required to cancel your gym membership (usually must be in writing and sent via certified mail) as that’s where consumers have the most trouble with gyms. Similarly, clubs like to deduct your monthly fees from checking or saving accounts, but you’re better off using the protections of a credit card.
Avoid the upsell
So, you’ve signed the contract, have a membership card in hand, and you’re ready to work out. But that’s not quite the end. Fitness clubs, like any other business, will try to sell you add-ons. In this case, it may be personal training, unlimited classes, or consumables like bottled water, energy bars, and smoothies. Just like the other “amenities”, don’t buy packages of personal training or classes unless you’re sure you’ll use them. And bring your own bottled water and energy bars from home.
Know when to cut your losses
Finally, if you find that you’re not using the gym that often, it’s time to cancel your membership. A deal’s not a deal if you’re not getting anything out of it. So follow those cancellation procedures and start working out at home: use the great outdoors to go for a run, stay inside with routines and workout videos on the internet, or invest in some equipment of your own.
I really enjoy my gym. It has the basics I need, it’s close to my home, it’s filled with friendly people, and it’s well maintained. My month-to-month membership is inexpensive and I go to work out regularly. Know what you need and be smart when you shop for it, and you too can make a small investment in your health that pays big dividends.
Do you belong to a gym? Or do you workout at home? Which do you prefer?
Image courtesy of alexisdc at freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)
About Gary Weiner @ Super Saving Tips
Over the last 45 years I’ve worked in retail (department stores and supermarkets) and financial planning. In addition, I am a shopper, born and bred, who enjoys the challenges of finding the best items for the best prices. When I’m not busy saving money or blogging over at Super Saving Tips, I enjoy baseball, music, and classic movies. I am retired and live in New Jersey with my wife.